Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate the recent firings of four Citizens Property Insurance Corp. employees responsible for keeping an eye on any internal wrongdoing at the state-backed insurer.
In a three-paragraph letter, Scott told Miguel that he was troubled by a Citizens’ Audit Committee report released last Friday. Scott noted the employees were terminated at a time they were investigating charges the insurer had mismanaged internal investigations and corporate funds.
“The timing of the firings raises new concerns,” Scott wrote. He asked that the inspector general determine if the firings were retaliatory.
Citizens’ officials, who did not immediately reply Monday to a request for comment, initially said they replaced the employees with accountants who were more qualified to detect financial fraud.
Dan Krassner, who heads the ethics advocacy group Integrity Florida, was quick to applaud Scott’s action.
“We look forward to the inspector general’s report to ensure accountability for the actions that resulted in firings of four internal government watchdogs,” Krassner said.
Citizens’ is the state’s largest property insurer with 1.4 million customers. The company hopes to significantly reduce its customer base to improve its ability to meet claims obligations in case of a catastrophic hurricane or series of storms.
Citizens was created a decade ago as the “insurer of last resort” to provide property insurance for business and home owners who could not otherwise find affordable coverage in the private market. Much of its business lays in the high-risk coastal areas of Florida that are prone to hurricane damage.
Scott had written Citizens President Barry Gilway last month with concerns about the company’s decision to disband its internal watchdog office.
The governor called the decision to terminate employees troubling at a time when the governor’s inspector general was reviewing reports of lavish travel expenses by top executives at the company. Scott ordered the probe after news reports detailed expensive hotel stays and flights abroad.
Gilway, a longtime executive with four decades of experience in the insurance industry, was hired by Citizens’ governing board to help with depopulating the insurer. He has said that four employees removal was premature and should not have been done before new forensic specialists were on board to handle internal audits.